Heart of a Dog

Movie Information

The Story: Performance artist and musician Laurie Anderson examines her relationship with her pet rat terrier against the backdrop of death and post-9/11 paranoia. The Lowdown: A beguiling little film that’s either brilliant or hogwash, but most likely lives somewhere in between.
Genre: Philosophical Documentary
Director: Laurie Anderson
Starring: Laurie Anderson, Lolabelle
Rated: NR



Performance artist and musician Laurie Anderson’s debut film, Heart of a Dog, defies any sort normal critical approach. Let me let you in on a secret — when we give a film a star rating, it’s more than a little arbitrary. In this case, it definitely is, and certainly isn’t any sort of concrete judgment of the film. It’s been about four days since I’ve seen the film and I’m still unable to say how I feel about it. While it’s called a documentary, Heart of a Dog definitely falls within the scope of Anderson’s spoken word work and will be most palatable to fans of Anderson. To me, with Anderson’s autobiographical tone and reliance on philosophy, the film is more in line with the literary idea of “autotheory,” which gets ascribed to writers like Maggie Nelson. But the film, in any practical sense, is genreless. Nothing I’ve seen this year — or in many years, for that matter — approaches the viewing experience I had with Heart of a Dog.




While much of the film seems like nonsense (maybe it isn’t, though — more on that later) or simply the gushing forth of an overactive mind, I can’t, in good conscience, dismiss Anderson’s film while every week I complain about the modern movie industry, with its never-ending reboots and sequels and superhero movies and more damned Star Wars, all made by a constant stream of male directors. Because, even with its issues, Heart of a Dog feels, unfortunately (oh, so unfortunately), like the rarest of things these days — an incredibly idiosyncratic (maybe to a fault), unabashedly personal and high-minded movie made by a woman. This doesn’t come around often. It’s the type of film that should at least be viewed — whether it’s your bag or not — if you have a serious interest in modern cinema.


Filmmaker Laurie Anderson and her pet rat terrier, Lolabelle, su


If you shave Heart of a Dog down to its essence, the nuts-and-bolts of the film is the very close, almost maternal, relationship between Anderson and her rat terrier Lolabelle. This is put into place from the beginning when Anderson, via animation, recounts a dream she had where Lolabelle was surgically placed into her womb and eventually birthed. Anderson reminds me in a way of my grandmother, a woman who always claimed to know what her Pomeranian was thinking, though Anderson takes it much further, getting her dog music and painting lessons and imprinting deep philosophical thoughts onto her. How serious Anderson is about all this is hard to tell, since there’s occasionally a sense of irony that comes through. Her tongue-in-cheek tone in talking about Lolabelle’s Facebook profile — one that Anderson only found out about after the dog’s death — is one example of this. I mean, how seriously can we take Lolabelle having a meditation guru, really?




But sprinkled within all of this are ideas — lots of ideas, some that go seemingly nowhere, with thoughts on the post-9/11 surveillance state and references to Kierkergaard, Wittgenstein and heavy examination of the Tibetan Book of the Dead. The film skips around from idea to idea, all narrated by Anderson and interspersed with various footage, cut and overlaid atop one another. While there’s a scattershot sense to Anderson’s train of thought, and she doesn’t always bother tying up loose ends, the way she presents the material creates at least a sheen of coherency and fluid movement. I’ll have to see the film multiple times to figure out if I think Anderson’s really getting at anything at all. Her film — after one viewing, at least — has a knack for leaving things open to interpretation. Anderson’s art — and this is definitely “art,” for better or worse — can be anything you want it to be, really. It can be the story of a woman and her dog, or even a painful, masked remembrance of her late husband Lou Reed. It can be pretentious nonsense or the most touching, profound film of the year. What’s special about Heart of a Dog is that there is so much room for interpretation, for discussion and thought, something that’s often in rare quantities these days. Not Rated.



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3 thoughts on “Heart of a Dog

  1. Bob Voorhees

    I think that “Heart of a Dog” is “about” many things, first of all, the Anima, the spirit of a woman. The anima-spirit pervades the movie, and, of course, the dog is Anabelle and the narrator, Ms. Anderson. The dream-state motif of the movie’s beginning reminded me of the “walkabout” phenomenon of the Australian aborigines, some of whom believed that the dream state was more “real” than waking life. The movie is also about grief and loss, a meditation on these which takes the form of stream-of-consciousness meandering, the way dreams tend to work. The central epiphany (and analogy) is brilliant, I think. Anabelle is used to seeing birds flying above her, but in the scene in the California mountains, she “understands” that the circling hawks mean to kill her, as the narrator remembers planes which did the same in New York in 9/11. I thought the music was, at times, discordant with the visual aspects of the movie and at times drowned the soft voice of the narrator, which was annoying because that voice, at times rose to the level of poetry, another theme of this wonderful, provocative film — that there is poetry in “existingness” (DH Lawrence) and that our animal friends help us see and express it.

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